This was my 9th Carnival Cruise, 2nd of 3 booked for this year. Have to reach Platinum Status under the old guidelines by December 31st. We flew in one day early and booked the Hampton Inn Ybor city. Great hotel and location, friendly staff and free hot breakfast. They offer a free shuttle to the port but you can only sign up at 7:30 am on the day of the cruise, so no sleeping in if you want a free shuttle. I was up and at the desk at 7:15 so I was able to choose first, I went with 10:30 am departure, 10:00 is the earliest they will take you.
We had purchased Faster to the Fun, since I would not be Platinum until the next cruise. Upon arrival at the port, the porters notice the FTTF logo and place another tag on your bags as well. We went to the entrance where the porter directed us. One thing different in Tampa vs Miami, is that you do not get to go to the front of the security line, you wait, your FTTF experience begins when you clear security and are greeted and personally walked to the check in counter to receive your Sign and Sail card and Priority Boarding Card.
We were checked in at 1043am and advised that boarding would begin at 11:30am. There were 3 wedding parties that had to board first, then Platinum/Diamond/Suite Guests and then FTTF. We saw our luggage go into the ship about 1/2 hour before we boarded. Our room was ready and we were able to drop the bags off and then head right up a get lunch.
The Room: We booked the Past Guest Rate in a Port Hole Room, U12. Rate was great, did not care for the small windows, next time on a Fantasy Class ship it will be back to Ocean view. On the larger ships we also do balconies so this was out of the norm for us. The stateroom steward Rodney was excellent, always kept the room clean and tidy. Only one small issue one night when the lights would not turn off, had to go to Guest Services and it took a ships electrician maybe 5 minutes to fix it.
Food was hit or miss. We skipped the MDR the first night as I wanted to see us go under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. We decided to do Lido, not the greatest selection the first night but we did not starve. We also skipped the MDR on Cozumel night. The breakfasts and lunches were always good.
Shows: The main production shows were 8 Seconds and Shout. One night we were entertained by the Cruise Director who played Violin and Fiddle, he was amazing, and the Fun Force Break Dancers. A guest Talent show was one night and the usual Welcome Aboard Show on the first night.
The ship itself: Great shape and nothing out of place. It is the least flashiest of any of the Carnival Ships I have been on. I kind of missed the neon. But the wood tones and the Classic Ships of the world were a nice theme.
Ports of Call: Grand Cayman you have to tender here, having Faster to the Fun saved a few minutes in getting off the ship. We were escorted down to the tender boat by a Guest Services Staff member and security had to remind the people letting you off to take the FTTF and people brought down from Guest Services. We had the Best of the Cayman Island Tour booked through Carnival.
Cozumel: This was our second time in Cozumel this year and had no plans other than to eat at Three Amigos and go shopping and see downtown which we did not in Jan when we were here last as we took a tour to the ruins.
Sea Days: there are 2 on this 5 day trip, and there are plenty of activities to keep you busy, scrapbooking, art auctions, fitness classes, dance classes, scavenger hunts etc. You can try to do it all or find a chair and relax and do nothing at all.
Disembarkation: We decided to take advantage of the Priority given to Platinum/Diamond/FTTF and Zone 1. Well, if you are in a hurry to get off the ship do self assist and apparently 1/2 the ship did as we did not reach the luggage and clear customs until 10am. So I can bet that boarding was delayed for the next cruise.
Overall, this was a fantastic cruise on the fun ships of Carnival. We had a great time and are looking forward to our third cruise this November on the Valor.